Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

A Great Bit of Advice from a Great Book Designer

Ever thought about paragraphs?

Well, with DIY publishing gaining popularity, you might want to consider what the Reader needs to make their reading easier

There have been many kinds of paragraphing over time and one can actually think of paragraphs as a type of “punctuation”.

As I sometimes do in this blog, I looked up the etymology of the word “paragraph”:

“‘…sign for start of a new section of discourse (the sign looked something like a stylized letter -P-)…” — “short stroke in the margin marking a break in sense” — “anything written beside, from paragraphein ‘write by the side’, from para- ‘beside’ + graphein ‘to write’.”

<<< That’s the symbol that’s sometimes used to indicate a paragraph. And, here’s a link that shows 12 different styles of paragraphs

If you’d rather read an article that deals with only the most common ways of showing paragraphs, try Joel Friedlander’s, Book Design: Choosing Your Paragraphing Style.

Here are two brief excerpts:

“Paragraphs long ago became a standard device for organizing the ideas in a book or the flow of a story. When the writer creates a paragraph, it breaks the flow of text and sends an important signal to the reader.”

“Reading on-screen is vastly different from reading a printed book, and a new default style has arisen out of the needs of readers of all this electronic text.”

I’d also urge you to read the Comments Joel got :-)

Oh! For those who’ve never noticed the , here’s Wikipedia’s take on defining what’s called a Pilcrow.
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10 responses to “A Great Bit of Advice from a Great Book Designer

  1. chaz desimone April 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    This is an incredibly interesting and enlightening blog post, Alexander. As a typographer and graphic designer, I am passionate about paragraphs, punctuation, and etymology. I had no idea there was a name for “the paragraph symbol,” the pilcrow, as well as the various styles of the symbol. Also, the list of punctuation, some of which I never heard of, accompanying the Wikipedia article about the pilcrow, is fascinating. (First thing I checked was whether they included the interrobang. Not only is that listed, but right below it is a new one on me: a backwards ? called the irony punctuation mark. Just as interesting are the various forms of paragraphing.
    This is one of your best posts, at least for this typographer. Thanks, Alexander.


  2. Simone Benedict April 11, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Those were enlightening comments in Mr Friedlander’s article. Sadly, I find I hardly have the patience to read printed material with the “old fashioned” paragraph style. I especially find it difficult to read long paragraphs. Remember back in school when we were taught how to write para’s with a topic sentence and all?

    I’ll try it out tomorrow. I’m not even sure I would still be able to write a paragraph that was more than three or four sentences. I’m glad you brought this up. I didn’t even know there was still a reason for me to use the tab key.


    • Alexander M Zoltai April 11, 2012 at 8:26 am

      Help me out here, Simone. Pretend the next two examples are much longer then a few lines, OK?
          John was flabbergasted. He slowly backed away from the corpse, slipping in the warm blood. He saw a hazy shape down the alley, moving his way.
          “Who’s there!? Who the hell is there!!?”
      John was flabbergasted. He slowly backed away from the corpse, slipping in the warm blood. He saw a hazy shape down the alley, moving his way.

      “Who’s there!? Who the hell is there!!?”
      So, the first is harder to read than the second, right??


      • Simone Benedict April 11, 2012 at 9:20 am

        lol, yes. My answer would have been different five years ago as I would have judged your paragraphs from “correctness.” It’s funny too that while I never used paragraphs as part of writing “rhythm”, I now do that in both my reading and my writing. Does that make sense? The shorter ones speed things up. Alas, we have become such a hurried people…


  3. Simone Benedict April 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I was just helping my oldest with grade school composition and saw this in the assignment instructions: “…there is one exception to the rule that ‘each paragraph should focus on a single smaller event that is part of the main story.’ The exception occurs when writing dialogue.”

    Silly, ole fuddy-ddy rules anyway. :-)


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